Category: Empathy

Oh Say Can’t You See what’s going on here?

To pray

To propose

To show reverence

To beg

Every single one of these activities involve getting down on one’s knees, and not one of them is associated with arrogence or disrespect.. In fact, just the opposite. Unless you’re not white, then how dare you envoke a humble gesture to respect a symbol of our country while drawing attention to it’s illness.

It seems the powers that be are still more comfortable with black men kneeling in front of cop cars than on the football field. The NFL has now reinforced that message by banning the practice of taking a knee on the field. Instead, players have the option to stay in the locker room during the anthem If they can’t bring themselves to stand.

If you consider yourself so patriotic as to believe the stance so commonly used to talk to GOD Isn’t even good enough for the Stars & Stripes, then you should be sad and disgusted by that ruling. An elite collection of wealthy people have once again taken it upon themselves to “solve” society’s problems as quickly and conveniently as possible, leaving the consequences for someone else.

Protests are not about entertainment. They are to shed light on things we have to fix. It’s hard to get people concerned about a problem if they don’t feel its direct impact. There are SO many facits of this issue that should incite action. Unarmed men dying at the hands of authority disproportionately by skin color wasn’t enough to get us going, so they had to make some people squirm a little at a sporting event. You should be uncomfortable!

 

You probably know by now, dear Reader, that I’m not in the habit of excusing bad behavior, but I am a fan of mercy and second chances.

Most NFL fans (and owners, etc.) are probably not racists. They are not so caloused to the blight of police brutality that the players’ protests are nothing more than an unacceptable annoyance. I suspect it’s quite the opposite. Like most of us,they see horrible things happening  and feel helpless because the are just one person. They’re overwhelmed because they lack the knowledge, resources and support to make a difference. This has become such a divisive topic, they fear reaching out will hurt more than help, and those fears are not unfounded.

It’s human nature to avoid action when we’re not sure how to proceed or what the consequences might be. We all do it every day, but stakes are way to high on this one.

It’s way past time for those of us who fear for anything less than our lives to responsibility for the kind of people we want to be. We have to get honest with ourselves, and our children, about difference between the great potential of this country vs. its current reality.

Do you know your neighbors?

Mr. Rogers had a life-altering impact on me.

I’m a 38-year-old woman with cerebral palsy. I’m not necessarily what most people associate with CP. I can walk and participated in mainstream public schooling as a child, but having a disability definitely played a formative role in shaping my life and the person I am.

My family made sure I had the best health care they could find, but never talked to me, or asked me about being disabled. I obviously knew I was different from my peers, but I only knew I had CP from listening to doctors speak with my mother.

I was (and still am) a huge fan of PBS, and watched Mister Rogers every day. I was probably 5 or 6 when I saw Jeff Erlanger on the show, and vividly remember thinking “ok, I’m not exactly like this kid, but this is what I am”.

I’m so thankful to Mister Rogers for confirming something so fundamental about myself and that there was nothing wrong with being like Jeff and I. I adamantly believe that my life could have taken a much darker turn without that experience. I still take a second to thank Mister R. every time I advocate, educate, speak or write about disability issues, and every time I remember to stop and realize how lucky I am to be living as a whole, happy and complete person with the right to acknowledge disability as a part of what makes me who I am.

It’s like peeling a snail from its shell.

Unless you’ve been under the same rock some of our lawmakers undoubtedly crawled out from under, you can’t help but have a strong opinion on the state of the healthcare system. I’ve got a lot to say about it myself, but for now I want you to see this video. It’s not an easy watch, but it is important

It’s not unusual for the police to restrain protestors, but what’s the equivalent of handcuffing or shackling a wheelchair user? I suppose I removing them from their chair gets results, but it’s NOT the same. It’s not restraint, it’s dismemberment. It’s excessive force, and a gross abuse of power to further reduce our weakest citizens, especially when they’re exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble. I thought the GOP was all about the Constitution! Denying the poor and disabled access to healthcare is just slow genocide.

Just waiting for my Nobel Peace Prize.

Sometimes the things I want to say to you are so important to me that it’s paralyzing. I’m so desperate to string together the perfect words to make you act, that I don’t even know where to start.  It’s a heavy burden.

It’s ok though, because I SOLVED ALL THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS!

As I sat drawing at my kitchen table (and continuing to avoid writing), I realized that there’s really only one word you need to understand. One word could repair the fabric of our society the way no legislation, politician or protest can: DIGNITY.

If everyone started honoring the dignity in everyone else the way we deserve just because we exist as human beings, and if we conducted ourselves with the dignity we all posses by the same virtue, all of this ugliness would dry right up.

Here’s how it works: There’s no way you can mistreat someone if you aren’t willing to drag yourself down to that level, and you can’t be sexist, racist, homophobic or discriminate against anyone (or allow your elected officials to do so) if you consider their quality of life first, and how it erodes their dignity (and yours) every single time. The less you’re in touch with your inherent dignity, the easier it is to rob someone of theirs, perpetuating the cycle of mean people creating more mean people. Don’t be mean.

Sounds too simple you say? It really IS simple. It’s the other stuff that’s convoluted. All the ways and reasons we use to hold each other down are only constructed to perpetuate a false bottom. You see, we are all equal. That is a fact. No one starts out any better or more deserving of their dignity that anyone else, but some folks can’t stand not being at the top. You can’t have a top without having a bottom, so the bottom was created one stereotype and one ignorant assumption at a time.

It won’t happen overnight. Maybe it won’t even happen in my lifetime, but it starts with us being cognizant of the way we act, and teaching that to our children until there’s an entire generation that doesn’t remember anything different, and respect is the norm. They will read of our ignorance and prejudices in their history books and be appalled. Can you imagine!?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Hero!

I come to you from my recliner, where I’m researching bohemian clothing (or curating my ideal wardrobe on Pinterest, whatever). Mike is watching a comedy in which two well-known actors discuss writing a screen play about super heroes who can control the world with their minds, and it occurs to me we all have that super power.

The world we live in is a culmination of every single thought we choose to act on, and the ones we don’t. The impact you have on the world around you, and often it’s impact on you, reflects what’s going on in your head. The contents of our minds manifest into our behavior.

Every moment of every day, you get to decide if you’re going to use your powers for good or evil. Are you going to be the villain or the hero?

Hey white people!

I made you a list of excuses (some of you call them “reasons”) for racism that seem to come up a lot. It studying these ideas, I’ve been consistently shocked by the number of otherwise educated and intelligent people who subscribe to them. I’m left with the conclusion that haters are gonna hate because that’s what they want to do. There’s no reasonable, logical basis for it. They just want to hate, or be superior to someone bad enough to forego all their common sense to do so.

  • You’re elderly, and back in your day it was just the way things were.

Trust me, I know it can take a lifetime to deprogram the lessons we absorb in our upbringing. However, how much common sense can it possibly take to know that treating human beings any differently, especially cruelly, based on NOTHING but the color of their skin is immoral. Just because it was common doesn’t mean it was right. It’s not and never has been. You need to adjust.

  • That’s just the way it’s always been done.

See #1. History has gotten a lot of things wrong. Beating one’s wife, shunning divorcees and persecuting the mentally ill have all been common practices in this country. None of them are fair or humane, and now we prosecute people who do those things. The same should be done with racism.

  • That’s just the way it is where you’re from.

(I’m beginning to see that #1 really sums things up) It’s way past time to look around and see who does what differently and why. Maybe everyone else is onto something and you need to get on board. There’s nothing wrong with loving your home, but make sure you really have something to be proud of. Recognizing that we have some problems to fix doesn’t make you unpatriotic. It means you love your country (or state) enough to want to make it truly worthy of your pride.

  • You just don’t know anyone who’s a different ethnicity from you, so you inadvertently say racist things out of genuine ignorance but would never hurt anyone.

Being from a small, rural community, I know a lot of people like this.  This excuse might have held water at one time, but now we have reliable vehicles, good roads, phone service, the internet…It’s never been easier to get connected with anyone from anywhere. Go make some new friends.

  • You pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, and they can too.

This one could be its own book. I’ll sum it up by saying that if you are not a person of color, a woman, a disabled person or an immigrant, you already got a head start. There are people in this country who have achieved great things by overcoming obstacles so far from your experience that your brain doesn’t even have a place to process them. Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not valid. No one is saying it’s your fault, but your willful blindness is a luxury the world can no longer afford. Being part of the solution starts with appreciating the advantage you were born with and being empathetic to those we weren’t.

If you’ve been taught, or managed to convince yourself that there’s any acceptable degree of, or reason for racism just remember this:

Ray Charles attended a  SEGREGATED school for the BLIND!

 

I’m not sick!

I had a fairly deep conversation with myself this morning, over a steaming sink of dirty dishes. I realized myself was making a pretty decent point, so I decided to let you in on the chat.
I grew up in a church that subscribes to practice of the laying on of hands in prayer for divine healing. For more than 20 years of my life, I attended youth camps and prayer meetings. I was in church every time the doors were opened, and sometimes I just used my key.
Countless times while in those services, I’d make my way to the altar by way of cane, walker, wheelchair or under my own power to seek prayer for a range of ailments and trials.
More often than not, I’d immediately be surrounded by my fellow believers who were praying, not for the encouragement or guidance I was seeking, but strictly for God to deliver me from my wheelchair.
Just to be clear, Friends, this talk doesn’t really have anything to do with religion, and I’ve got no grudge of any kind. It’s about the prevailing idea that all people with imperfect bodies want to be normal, that we’re anomalies in the spectrum of humanity that have to be dealt with some how.
If typical people didn’t perpetuate that ideology, we would have more ramps and fewer stairs. Ramps work for everyone. Stairs don’t. If there were fewer accessibility barriers, there would be less unemployment among disabled people. I could go on and on…
When people assumed I was seeking healing because I have a visible disability, it feels like A) that attribute of myself is totally unacceptable, and B) they’re disrespecting the way God made me, not even considering it might be for a purpose.
           
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, they’re good people doing what they sincerely believe God wants them to do, but why didn’t occur to anyone that God made me exactly the way he meant for me to be? My whole life I’ve heard talk about how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, but then we pray for the deliverance of people who were somehow made incorrectly?
People will line up all day long to tell you your plight was God’s will, unless it’s something that makes them uncomfortable, then you need to be delivered from it. Who gets to decide where that line is?

Snow Days

We humans labor under many delusions that erode our quality of life. One that particularly makes my eye twitch is that we are all extra-special, super-unique little snowflakes. Friends, give me a break.

Like most stereotypes and over-generalizations, there’s some truth to it. We all have our own little oddities that make life more interesting and provide lots of opportunity to learn about different points of view, but while our quirks supply diversity, it’s our common human expereinces that gives us stability.

 “You don’t know how I feel!”
“You don’t understand what I’m going through!”
“Well maybe you’ve done this before, but [insert lame qualifying statement here]!”
Why is that our knee-jerk reaction when people try to identify with us? Statements like these not only isolate us, they also discount the empathy of the person trying to reach out…and that’s something we can’t afford to lose.
Here’s some stuff to keep in mind when you find yourself in a similar conversation:
1. Recognize the Empathy: It might sound a little harsh and sloppy, like the person is trying  to one-up you or make it about all about them, but remember humans are imperfect. Appreciate the effort they’re making to acknowledge your situation and help you feel less alone.
2. It’s entirely likely they don’t understand every single facet of your feelings, because no one can read your mind. Make it an opportunity to explain/educate, not an excuse to shut them down. If I’m every Queen of the World, it will be a crime against humanity to discourage someone’s attempt to empathize.
3. If you are trying to be the comforter in a scenario like this, be careful to keep your “I              statements” to a minimum, and make them reflect back to the comfortee.
All the –isms in the world, sexism, racism, ablism, etc, continue to exist because we make a million little decisions every day that lead toward ignoring what makes us the same and remaining ignorant about the unique qualities of people we think are so different from us.
Not making the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes WILL have serious consequences (so will keeping others out of your shoes for that matter). Always remember all we know for sure is everyone you encounter only gets this one life and your existence will affect it.
Isolation will destroy you. An individual snowflake won’t last long on it’s own, but when it starts sticking with its buddies, they are literally a force of nature.